“Networking is rubbish -- have friends instead.”
-- Steve Winwood
Tell me if this story sounds familiar: You go to a business conference or networking event, find the first speaker, sit down, and jump on your phone or computer immediately to check emails. You avoid talking to people and wait for the ‘right moment’ to approach. When you finally do start a conversation with someone, you say, “so, what do you do?” The person looks annoyed and the conversation lasts for a short time, before your move on to the next person. You have a few surface-level conversations and get a headache halfway through the event. Your lower back hurts.
Later during the event you drink too much free Asahi and forget most of what you learned, and the content of the conversations you had. At the end of the day, you are drained. You come back home carrying a bag full of brochures, which you immediately throw in the trash. You aren’t exactly sure why you went to the event, maybe “to learn,” since it was relevant to your industry and expensed by your company. But you are not sure if you accomplished much.
The next day you follow up with the people whose business cards you collected. You don’t recall exactly what most people spoke about, so you send a general email with no action point. “Good meeting at the event, let’s stay in touch!” Nothing happens, and the memory of the event fades away into the distant past.
The purpose of networking
Think about some of the key people that you have met over your life and throughout your career. You’ve probably spent time building a relationship with them, doing them favors, and they’ve probably helped you in some way too. The way that you got there is through establishing trust. And the way to establish trust is to find out what is valuable to that person, and then be useful to them. That’s it.
Networking is the same. Many people make the mistake of collecting business cards or think that just “going to the event” counts as networking -- it doesn’t. Just showing up does not count as success, at least not in this case. Networking takes a greater investment, but if done properly, can pay huge dividends for everyone involved.
Three rules to remember:
#1 Prepare, research and do your due diligence. Before signing up for the event, write down your goal. Do you want to meet a specific person? Gain a certain piece of information for a report? Find a sales lead? Find an employee? What is it? Perhaps you only need to stay at the event for one hour or talk to one person to get what you are looking for. That’s fine.
Often times, if the event is listed on Facebook or on social media you can see the attendees on a list; this way you can get a good idea of who will be there; you can even reach out to them before the event and plan to meet up at the event (or outside of the event) Assess whether it’s worth your time -- some events are not.
#2 Talk less, do more. Add value at every step. Everybody wants something at a networking event, whether that’s to make a new connection, gain an idea, receive feedback, or make a friend. A general rule of thumb is that you should be talking 20% of the time and listening 80%. Good questions to ask are, “What exciting projects are you working on now,” or “What are you most excited about right now,” or “What big challenges do you have in your business right now?” While these may seem personal, after a five-minute conversation and a couple of drinks, you should be able to ease into this.
Once you have this information, you can write down a note or memo on your phone to remember them, and then follow up with an email the same day, or next day, taking a specific action point. Ask yourself, “how can I help this person?” Give them something (“here is the link I promised I would share” and/or “I will connect you to Tanaka-san who I mentioned via email shortly”). If you help every person you meet, even in a small way, the universe will return the favor.
#3 Quality over quantity and the Pareto Principle. The Pareto principle simply means that 20% of your actions can produce 80% of your intended results. Less effort, better results. Having a deeper conversation with one person is going to be more valuable than speaking to 20 people superficially. Try it. I promise it will be a paradigm shift in your approach, and will make the events a lot more enjoyable and less stressful. It’s far better to walk away from an event with one friend, rather than no friends and 20 business cards.
That one person is more likely to give something back to you. It only takes one person and one meaningful conversation to find what you are looking for, so it makes sense to invest your time in that one person. This means you are actually spending several minutes talking to that person -- maybe fifteen minutes, or longer, possibly scheduling a coffee meeting after the event.
Insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results
Lastly, if you feel nervous to go to a networking event, remember two things. First, other people feel the same way, you’re all in the same boat! Second, if you follow the above tips, preparing before each event, reaching out to people beforehand, and having quality conversations, you’ll find that this sort of planning and strategic approach will reduce your nerves. Networking has the power to help you find people and long term business partners (and perhaps friends, too) that can positively impact your life and business. It’s worth putting in some effort and jumping in the water.
To read more about networking, we suggest the following books: